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Accessing Care as an Immigrant Mother

Accessing Care as an Immigrant Mother

Being a mother is hard, and being one in a new country, where you find yourself adjusting to a new culture, learning a new way of doing things, and possibly learning a new language, is even harder. The many challenges and stressors you face make it even more important to take care of yourself and your new baby through pregnancy and postpartum. Everyone deserves a healthy pregnancy and birth regardless of their immigration status or country of birth.  

Where to Go for Care

The United States (US) healthcare system is complex and different from most other countries. To get the best care, it is important to know where to go for the care you need. In many countries, if you are feeling sick or have a health issue, you go to the hospital. In other countries, you go to your neighborhood clinic. In the US, there are a variety of care places to go, and it is important to choose the right one for your care.  

  • Hospitals in the US are for Labor and Delivery or Medical Emergencies. If you believe that you are going into labor, pre-term labor, or are miscarrying, go directly to a hospital. Because of legislation referred to as Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) you will be seen at any hospital with an emergency department if you are in labor.1 There is no requirement to have funds to pay for this care, and you will not be asked about your immigration status.  
  • For regular care and prenatal visits, you should go to a clinic or a private doctor’s office. Pre-natal visits are usually free with your insurance. If you do not have insurance, discuss seeing a lower provider (midwife, registered nurse, etc.), ask about setting up a payment plan, or visit a free/sliding scale clinic. (more resources on this below) 
  • Urgent Care clinics are for minor emergencies after regular office hours (office hours in most doctor’s offices are Monday-Friday 8 AM-5 PM). An urgent care clinic is a great care option for non-life threatening, minor emergencies that do not present a grave danger to the baby or parent.  

Social Programs to Support Mothers and Children in the US.

  • WIC: Women’s and Children’s Nutrition program open to all pregnant women up to 1 year postpartum, and infants and children up to five years old regardless of immigration status.2 The program is there to provide nutritional support for a healthy pregnancy and post-partum periods, as well as to support access to healthy foods for young children. The program also provides nutrition counseling, food, formula, and lactation supplies. Using this program does not constitute being a “public charge.”3
  • Non-Profit Organizations: Many non-profit organizations such as Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia are there specifically to support mothers and infants or have specific programs that support this population. They may provide classes, connect you to resources, or provide material support to help you through a healthy pregnancy and birth.  
  • Churches/Faith Organizations: In the US, community religious organizations play an important role in providing social support to those in need of help. You do not have to belong to a religious community to receive support, and there is no expectation of you becoming a part of the community if you receive help.  
  • Diaper Banks are community non-profit organizations with the mission of distributing diapers to all families that might need them. Some provide diapers to families directly, while others distribute them to local organizations that serve families and children. Find a diaper bank in your area. 

Take care of yourself while pregnant

As an immigrant, it might be hard to figure out where to go and whom to trust with your care while pregnant. Pre-natal care is very important and can decrease the risk of pre-term birth and low birth weight for the baby.4

You can contact your local Georgia Department of Health to learn whether they offer pre-natal clinics. Reach out to your local Planned Parenthood office, or use the Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Help Me Grow navigator (1-888-457-4769), to find clinics in your area. If you are in the Atlanta Area: Centro Prenatal de Georgia and Clinica Familiar are two clinics that offer care on a sliding scale based on income. Another option is getting care at Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC), which are safety net providers providing low-cost health services, often on a sliding scale.  Click here to see if a FQHC is near you.  

Know your rights.

You might be new to this country but you still have rights just by being on US soil. It is important to know your rights to get the best care. 

  • Your medical provider will not ask about your immigration status. Medical professionals and hospitals do not ask for or keep this information.  
  • Any child born in the US is automatically a US citizen and will be eligible for all benefits a US citizen can receive. They will be eligible for Medicaid (CHIP), regardless of your immigration status.  
  • In Georgia, only US Citizens are eligible for Medicaid (a government health insurance that covers low-income individuals, including pregnant women). You must have a residential address in Georgia and meet income eligibility. If you apply for Medicaid and are found not eligible or are denied Medicaid, nothing will be reported to immigration.3 
  • You do not have to disclose your immigration status. Instead, you can say that you are not eligible for Medicaid and do not have funds to pay. If you do not have a social security number, simply say you do not. There is no need to explain. 
  • You have a right to a medical interpreter. Any clinic or hospital that accepts Medicaid must provide a medical interpreter. Many hospitals do not realize this, but they are required to provide one.5  
  • You have the right to ask what procedures are being performed and give your consent to them. If you do not understand, ask for a medical interpreter, ask the provider to explain differently, or ask for a different provider to explain it. 
  • You have a right to access any hospital if you are in labor or are experiencing a medical emergency. There is no requirement to have funds to pay. You will not be asked about your immigration status.  

You are strong, you made it to this country, and you are trying to do the best for your children. Armed with knowledge and resources, you can find the care you need and do the best for yourself and your family.  

 

Written by: Tatiana Woldman 

Content Expertly Reviewed by: Katherine Narvaez, MPH, MBA 

 

References 
  1. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Service. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: EMERGENCY MEDICAL TREATMENT AND LABOR ACT (EMTALA). Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services; Accessed 03/24/2024. https://www.cms.gov/files/document/emtala-know-your-rights.pdf
  2. USDA Food and Nutrition Service. About WIC – WIC at a Glance. USDA Food and Nutrition Service. Updated April 07, 2023. Accessed 03/24/2024, 2024. https://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/about-wic-glance
  3. GeorgiaLegalAid.Org. What should I know about public benefits for immigrants? Updated 02/02/2022. Accessed 03/24/2024, 2024. https://www.georgialegalaid.org/resource/what-should-i-know-about-federal-benefits-for-immigrants
  4. Fabi R. Undocumented Immigrants in the United States: Access to Prenatal Care. The Hastings Center Accessed 03/22/2024, 2024. https://undocumented.thehastingscenter.org/issuebrief/undocumented-immigrants-in-the-united-states-access-to-prenatal-care/
  5. The Georgia Hospital Watch Project. Language access at hospitals 2011. Accessed 03/24/2024. https://www.georgiawatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/GW-HAP-Language-Access-at-Hospitals.pdf

 

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